A great move from one of the NBA’s best to one of its future stars.
There is a day of the NBA regular season to come but the time for previews is ahead, for now let’s look at the first-round wishes of those in the mix.
The Cleveland Cavaliers want to get minutes into Kevin Love. It has been widely debated whether or not he is mismatched when the Cavs play the Warriors and there are decent arguments either way.
The fact remains they have plenty of water under the bridge before getting to that match-up and the guy remains an elite player, albeit one who needs to defend better to be effective. If he can do that then surely he belongs on the floor come crunch time against any opponent.
The Toronto Raptors want a series win. Playoff seeding is a moot point when you are a franchise starved of success and home court advantage cannot be leant on for security, as it was not enough over the last two seasons. This year’s opponent figures to be far less of a threat than the Wizards or Nets were, but the heat is on the Raps to prove their regular season doesn’t count for nought.
The Miami Heat want to start fast and want no injuries to their old guys and poise from their new guys. Chris Bosh isn’t coming back but this is still the best equipped team to dethrone King James out East.
The rotation is flexible, deep, experienced (two rookies aside) and well-coached. The Heat will be favoured with home court in the first round and the likely match-up with Charlotte pits two strong defensive teams who execute well against each other. They will want to ensure they win at home early in the series as the Hornets are likely to gain confidence if they get into the series early.
The Atlanta Hawks want Paul Millsap to dominate. Millsap is arguably the most understated star in the game and one whose impact goes beyond statistics. He was disappointing in last year playoffs as a franchise player, which he is at the Hawks.
He faces a tough match-up against Amir Johnson but should be able to lead his team to a series win. He simply has to.
The Boston Celtics want the mystique of years past. Boston sports fans are among the most passionate in the league, but they know this Celtics teams is a few years from peaking. That doesn’t mean they can’t upset the Hawks and push the Cavs in Round 2. Isaiah Thomas is one of the bigger bargains of recent trade times and has to be the guy if this team is to win a series.
If the Celtics split the first two games, the TD Garden will be rocking come Game 3 like the famed Boston Garden was in times past.
The Charlotte Hornets want a reasonably fit Nicholas Batum. Kemba Walker is a budding star and has a favourable point guard match-up against Miami, but he shoots just 34 per cent from the field when Batum is not on the floor. Batum and Walker, together, give the Hornets a chance of an upset.
The Indiana Pacers want control of the tempo. The Pacers are overmatched talent wise and their ability to spring the upset relies heavily on speeding the game up and dampening the influence and effectiveness of Kyle Lowry and Demar DeRozan in the half court. They also need to avoid foul trouble against a team that ranks third in free throw attempts per game.
The Detroit Pistons want to control the boards, minimise their mistakes and for Andre Drummond to make his foul shots. This roster is in the early stages of a Stan Van Gundy-led revolution and has a very strong starting five.
If he plays well and the games are close, Drummond has the ability to dictate Cleveland’s closing line-up; they will be unlikely to go small with their running line-up if he dominates the boards and controls the paint.
They concede the second-least second chance points in the league and the fifth-least points off turnovers; any chance of being competitive depends on them not being overawed by the opponent and the moment and playing fundamentally sound basketball.
The Golden State Warriors want to play the Houston Rockets. The Warriors have very little to worry about whichever way it goes, but the Utah Jazz have played them tough this season and represent a line-up against which they will struggle to play ‘small ball’.
Conversely, Golden State should sweep the horrible Rockets and score 125 points per game in the process, while being able to play exactly how they want to.
The San Antonio Spurs want some semblance of clarity on their best line-up. Like Cleveland, most seem to base the best Spurs line-up on who they should play against the Warriors. They have a few rounds to get that mix right, and a match-up against the Dallas Mavericks would give them the opportunity to play a versatile line-up and see who joins Kahwi Leonard, Danny Green and Boris Diaw on the floor at crunch time.
The Oklahoma City Thunder want signs of life from someone other than Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant. Despite being two of the best five players on the planet, they are surrounded by teammates strong at one end of the floor but flawed at the other. The likes of Enes Kanter, Dion Waiters, Andre Roberson and Steven Adams will in essence be auditioning for key roles in the second round against the Spurs.
Based on exposed form, Thunder fans wouldn’t have confidence they will get what they want from these role players.
The Los Angeles Clippers want a quick series. Some would say Blake Griffen needs miles in his legs having missed so many games, but the Clippers need to take care of business and take time off to rest up and plan to unlock the Rubik’s Cube that is the Golden State Warriors. The heavy reliance on the starting five is even more reason this side needs as much rest as possible.
The Portland Trailblazers want the challenge of being underdogs. After losing four of their starting line-up last season most expected them to slide. Someone forgot to tell Damien Lillard and C.J.McCollum; the former continues to be one of the prime stone-cold killers in the NBA and McCollum is a lock for most improved player.
Most don’t give Portland a chance, and they will embrace that.
The Dallas Mavericks wish Risk Carlisle could coach for life. Dirk Nowitzki remains an efficient and effective marvel at age 37, J.J.Barea has become a temporarily elite offensive point guard and Deron Williams comes into the playoffs playing fantastic basketball.
It’s almost enough to forget the rotation contains a handful of one-dimensional journeyman and that Chandler Parsons is out for the season; the first round challenge will be a steep one, but would you bet against the best coach this side of San Antonio?
The Memphis Grizzlies want a WWE ring and Zach Randolph isolations on loop. The Grizz have been impacted by injury like no other team in recent history and we know what a side with Matt Barnes, Randolph, Lance Stephenson and Chris Andersen will bring to the table. It will be far from pretty and probably won’t resemble basketball, but Memphis will make their opponent very aware they are locked in an intense battle.
The Houston Rockets want the season back. Coming off a conference final performance, their best player James Harden came back underdone and reportedly led the mutiny against former coach Kevin McHale.
They have bumbled through the season as a mishmash of souls and yet somehow lead the league in winning games where they faced a fourth-quarter deficit. They are very lucky to have made playoffs, and their death will be quick and painless.
The Utah Jazz want a miracle. They need the Sacramento Kings to beat the Rockets, which might happen if the Kings were blatantly tanking. The Jazz have no-one but themselves to blame with key late season home losses but the core of Gordon Hayward, Derrick Favors, Rudy Gobert and crew have plenty of good times ahead provided they learn from the harsh lessons of this season.
Agree? Disagree? Let me know!